Sport

Proteas take to the field to show who's boss

Neil Manthorp

The "big three" of India, Australia and England now dominate in the boardroom, but South Africa have to show they are in charge on the cricket field.

The Proteas have been advised wisely to say nothing despite their disappointment. (Gallo)

Australia's cricketers arrived in the country on Wednesday and travelled straight to Potchefstroom where they will encamp and prepare for one of the most keenly anticipated Test series on these shores since isolation ended in 1991.

Tempting as it may be to believe that players are only interested in what happens on the field, the truth is sometimes different – as it is now.

The three Test matches have been given a great deal of extra "edge" by the international administrative politicking of the past week, which has seen Cricket Australia (CA) unashamedly line up behind the England Cricket Board (ECB) in support of the campaign by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to rule the global game and marginalise South Africa's part in it.

"We always played it as hard as possible on the field but we were strong allies off the field – or thought we were," a veteran player and administrator told the Mail & Guardian this week. "There is undoubtedly a sense of being betrayed by both the Aussies and the English; there's a knife in the back."

New order
Hopes of concerted resistance to the triumvirate from the other seven full member nations receded rapidly on Wednesday, with simpering statements from New Zealand Cricket and the West Indies Cricket Board declaring their delight at the new order of leadership and revenue distribution. Both countries, incidentally, are entirely reliant for their survival on ICC handouts and tours by India.

The Bangladesh Cricket Board objected to the proposals but their status as a Test-playing nation was "assured", despite proposals that Test cricket should be split into two divisions, with Bangladesh and Zimbabwe consigned to the second division. Whether that will be enough to secure their support remains to be seen but the ICC's approval of yet another loan to bail out Zimbabwe Cricket most certainly will be enough to secure Zimbabwe's vote.

Eight out of 10 votes are required to push the new legislation through – legislation that will cede all meaningful power to the "big three" and more than half of global revenue. It leaves just the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and Cricket South Africa (CSA) in the cold outside.

To continue the fight for equity and democracy in such circumstances would amount to nothing more than martyrdom. At some point it will become clear to CSA that pragmatism is better than heroism.

It may be preferable to die on your feet than to live on your knees in Utopia, but this is the real world. Even Pakistan have been wooed by the promise of lucrative bilateral contests against India, whom they have not played for 10 years.

Keeping mum
The Proteas players have, wisely, been advised to say nothing, but they are appraised of the situation and, as Test world champions, they are, to say the least, disappointed. The chief executive of their South Africa Players' Association, Tony Irish, spoke on their behalf:

"It is hard to imagine a greater contradiction than the one being presented to lovers of Test cricket at the moment. We are being told that the 'primacy of Test cricket' remains fundamentally important to the ICC, and that there will be a 'Test fund' to help support and grow the game around the world. Yet, at the same time, we are being told that India will pick and choose its tours and the current future tours programme will, effectively, be scrapped.

"For the last decade, the players around the world were fully behind the movement to give Test cricket some context. In the absence of a proper Test championship, which is what the players would have preferred, we have used the Test rankings with great success to give some meaning to the game.

"How can we have a rankings system in the future with India – and possibly everyone else – selectively choosing their opponents based purely on financial considerations rather than cricketing ones?" Irish asked.

History repeats itself
What lies ahead for South Africa is a return to the 1990s in which they toured every country they were invited to, tried hard to win friends and influence people, and spent considerable reserves of emotional and physical energy in re-establishing a place in the world order.

While N Srinivasan remains as president of the BCCI, the enormous revenue generated by an Indian tour – particularly an extended one – will remain a forlorn hope. Unless, perhaps, CSA replaces its chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, who so infuriated the Indian during his pursuit of good governance while chief executive at the ICC.

That, remarkably, is the predicament CSA's board members find themselves in. Bullies exist in every sphere of life, but corporate bullies prepared to risk so much, on behalf of so many, in pursuit of a personal grudge are rare.

All the players can do is perform on the field, and a first post-isolation victory against Australia on these shores will be a rousing start to the new world order in which they rule – but in name only.

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